Organizational Culture: Finding Your Fit

Guest post by Lindsay Pingel, Director of Community Engagement, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Finding the perfect pair of jeans … THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!!! Time, energy, research, trial and error often go in to the process. On top of that, there are so many characteristics to look for – comfort, versatility, dressy vs. casual, dark vs. light denim, slim fit, flare, durable … the list goes on and on. The process can sometimes seem never ending, but when you finally find the pair – the PERFECT pair – the energy, confidence and fulfillment you feel is worth the wait.

This same process can be used to create and define the culture of an organization. No matter what size, type or arena your business aligns with, all institutions have a mission, vision and core principles that define its culture. Trends, traits, time periods and people can alter these characteristics at different times, but at its core, the culture remains the same.

As a job seeker or long-term team member of an organization, it is important to know what kind of workplace culture is best for you before you accept a job or as you continue to grow within an organization. Some things to consider are:

  • The mission, vision and values of the organization. If you can’t align with the core values of an institution, it probably isn’t the right place for you.

  • Leadership. Does your director/manager practice what they preach and empower their team to grow and illustrate the core values of the organization?

  • Flexibility. What does flex time, PTO and/or sick pay look like? Is there flexibility within your position to set your hours as personal priorities, networking invitations and/or professional development opportunities come up?

  • Autonomy. Micro-managing can stifle an employee’s productivity and create frustrations for staff. Allowing autonomy for individuals can open the door for individual leadership that will directly benefit an organization.

  • Open communication is encouraged.  From the top to the bottom, communication is encouraged. Leadership keeps their staff “in the know,” and encourages open dialogue to brainstorm, find solutions to internal/external concerns, and most importantly, be heard.

  • Happy people. If staff are happy, enjoy what they do, like their colleagues, and are excited to come to work each day, well, who doesn’t want to work at a place like that?!

Like the perfect pair of jeans, different tactics and traits are taken into consideration when an institution defines its workplace culture. This process takes time, strong leadership, employee buy-in, growing pains … the list goes on and on. But in the end, when an institution defines its culture, new opportunities, personal/professional fulfillment, and countless possibilities for future endeavors will emerge and be worth the work and wait.


Reflection: July Book Discussion

I never expected that my husband and I would be weighing the benefits of public vs. private school when our son was only 6 months old, but that was our reality. I never thought I would see a future where the amount of money we spend on sports activities for our kids is equal to our family’s grocery budget, but the research in “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” shows that this is where we’re headed.

Robert Putnam shares stories and research that highlight the challenge parents are facing around the nation: the possibility that their children won’t have a better life than they did. The essence of the American Dream is that all children can have equal opportunities for success, if they only work hard and remain focused. But how can they all have an equal opportunity if there’s not an equal start at the beginning of life?

This question was the highlight of YNPN’s Quarterly Book Discussion in July. Attendees shared their perspective through their own professional lenses. While some considered the impact of the data on the current generation of youth, others shared their concern for adults that have already lost sight of the “American Dream” due to struggles in overcoming childhood trauma or making the decision to forego a small raise at work because of a greater loss in benefits, (childcare assistance, tax credits, health care coverage). Some families can afford to take the loss if they are lucky enough to have parents who can help fill in the gaps for medical bills or assist with childcare, while others are stuck in a continuous cycle of poverty with no extended family to rely on.

Putnam shares parallels between the challenges for today’s children and the life he had growing up in Port Clinton, Ohio. He notes that 75 % of his fellow graduates went on to attain a higher level of education and greater economic security than their parents had achieved. Because of socio-economic trends that range from the decline of manufacturing to residential moves to suburbs, that is not true of more-recent graduating classes. Families of varying socioeconomic status lived side by side in 1950, whereas today’s poorer families are segregated from upper class families with gated communities and home association fees.

During our discussion, several attendees noted Putnam’s lack of emphasis on the correlation of race and upward mobility. Rather he emphasized the growing disparities between socioeconomic classes as being the largest barrier for upward mobility for all races. He cites the collapse of the working-class family that started to affect African-Americans in the 1960s, also began to affect white Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. This sparked our group’s conversation to turn towards discussing barriers in Central Iowa for upward mobility and what we can do about it as both non-profit professionals and invested community members. Here are some of our ideas:

  • Check out Connections Matter and share their mission not only within your agency, but within your community. The materials were developed by a stellar team of professionals from the Central Iowa ACE’s 360 Committee, Trauma Informed Care Project, and the Developing Brain Group. It’s also coordinated by Amanda the Panda and Prevent Child Abuse Iowa (Shout-out to our fabulous YNPN Member Sara Welch for being a part of this awesome effort!)
  • Increase the discussion around barriers for minorities to achieve upward mobility. Des Moines may be #1 for Young Professionals, but did you also know that in 2014 Iowa ranked dead last for the number of minority-owned businesses
  • Diversity is not exclusive to skin color. More value needs to be placed on employees and clients who hold different religious beliefs, cultural values, and live with their own mental/physical disabilities.
  • Advocate for better policies on maternity/paternity leave. If employees and their families are well cared for, the people we serve will be well cared for.

Kelsey Tyrrell

Pregnancy and Adoption Coordinator

Catholic Charities Des Moines

LinkedIn Profile

Afraid to Ask: Nonprofit Management

YNPN kicked off an Afraid to Ask series focused on the topic of Nonprofit Management on Tuesday, April 19th at Fox Brewing in West Des Moines. Two members of Mosaic in Central Iowa’s leadership team spoke to 15 attendees about things they’ve learned about managing a nonprofit for collectively over 40 years.

Carol Mau, Mosaic’s executive director, admitted she falsely believed she had it all figured out many years ago when she became an agency director. She quickly learned, however, that being in a supervisor role doesn’t mean you have all the answers. After attending a leadership training put on by Morning Star Associates about how to effectively lead employees, Mau felt invigorated from learning so much about developing employees, but also defeated because the agency had been missing the mark.

“Before, we would have project meetings or people would just pop into my office if they had a question, but we never dedicated time to helping grow our employees.” All supervisors at Mosaic have now committed to monthly, if not weekly, coaching sessions with their direct reports. This was implemented because the leadership team recognized that the investment of this one-on-one time between an employee and their manager is critical to building self-reliant leaders and would end up saying everyone time in the long run.

Both speakers also emphasized that avoiding conflict is not an effective way to manage an organization. Employees need to be able to challenge ideas, but still come together in the end to trust whatever decision is made.

“The most important tool you have as a leader is your organization’s already established mission and values,” Mau said. When conflict and challenges do arise, you should look to the organization’s mission to help guide you.

Jen Zajicek, Mosaic’s associate director, highly recommended that everyone, whether in a supervisory role or not, reads the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. Both women also recommended any book by Patrick Lencioni, as he writes his leadership advice in novel form, so it’s easier to follow along within the context of a story.

“It’s all about relationships,” Mau explained. “It’s about building trust so that the manager can help support the employee to do their best work possible, and so the employee isn’t afraid to bring challenges or new ideas to their supervisors.”

Keep your eye out for the next installment of this Afraid to Ask series in June!

Meetings that Actually Work

Last year, my organization (Iowa Campus Compact) decided that since we facilitate so many meetings and events, it was time to get a few more tools in our toolbox. We often have challenges with engaging everyone actively and keeping on track. In December, we attended a Facilitation Lab led by See What I Mean, a consulting and training firm that focuses on meeting design and visual facilitation.

Cut to this spring and a site visit with some of our program participants and supervisors. These meetings in the past have typically involved us asking some open-ended questions (How is the program going for you? What could we improve?) and…crickets. This time was different. My staff designed the meeting around the goals for us and the goals for those attending. They designed activities that helped people with different styles (introverts and extroverts, etc.) contribute to a robust conversation where we encourage each other and generated new ideas for some of our biggest challenges. No crickets could be heard, only great ideas.

Every meeting we have planned using the principles and techniques we learned through the Facilitation Lab has been more engaging, more productive, and more professional than anything we’ve done in the past. At last week’s YNPN discussion group, I shared some of the ideas and resources we learned through this training.

Design the meeting

This seems simple and yet often doesn’t happen. See What I Mean encourages you to think about both the organizational and “people” goals of the meeting and to design activities, including openings and closings, that help you reach those goals. Good design helps you stay on time as well, which to me is critical. Start on time and end on time, no matter who is in the room!

Use activities, not open-ended discussion

Let me tell you, this is a hard habit to break. I am still working on it, despite having seen just how much difference a well-planned activity can make. To design the right activities, you have to really think about the organizational goal of the meeting. Whether it is generating new ideas or making a difficult decision, you can find activities that help everyone engage, feel heard, and stay on track. Need some ideas? Gamestorming is a great resource.

Show, don’t tell

Whenever you can, think about how to visually represent your goals, concepts, and the information generated through the meeting. Visual tools are more engaging and help participants develop a shared understanding of concepts and plans. To help practice this skill, our YNPN group tried to draw “how to make toast.” Try it!

The YNPN group also used a Brainwriting activity (great for including introverts) to generate their own ideas for great meetings. Here are a few:

  • For a group that meets regularly, consider working together to create your meeting rules and expectations
  • Send agenda and “homework” in advance to attendees
  • Offer “office hours” to answer questions prior to the meeting
  • Close all meeting with a recap of action items, assignments, and timelines (include what was decided at the last meeting on the next meeting’s agenda)
  • Send out meeting notes after meetings
  • Practice active listening
  • Create a “parking lot” for questions that are off-topic

A final thought for anyone organizing or facilitating meet is the greatest wisdom I learned from See What I Mean: have empathy for participants. Build in breaks, offer food and drinks, create a comfortable space. People who have their basic needs met are more likely to share their ideas and be fully present!

What are your meeting tips?

Design Assign: Matching Non-Profits with Creative Professionals to Raise Awareness and Funds

As a non-profit, every day you do what you can to make things better. You implement programs that address unmet meets, you fight for funding to continue to make a difference, and you work to inspire others to get involved with your cause. But, some days that work is more challenging than others —maybe you’re short on time, money, staff — or all three.

One local organization is looking to help out. For the fifth year, AIGA Iowa, the local chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design, is matching local non-profit organizations with creative professionals to provide communication materials pro-bono that can help raise awareness and funds. Past projects have included logos, brochures, event invitations, posters, websites, and much more — depending on the needs of the non-profit. The initiative is called Design Assign, and over 30 non-profits have benefited from the program since it began, many of which have participated year after year.

Through the initiative, relationships form, designers commit time and thousands of dollars in design fees, projects are creatively brought to life, and lives — both the creatives and the clients the non-profits serve — are changed.

Non-profits are invited to submit project applications on the Design Assign website through April 10. All approved projects will be posted on the project board where creative volunteers will then have the opportunity to apply for whichever project they feel best matches their skills, interest and time commitment.

AIGA is proud to host this collaborative partnership that gives back to the greater Des Moines community through design.

Questions about the program can be directed to

Why nonprofits should consider Facebook advertising

Back in November, ActionSprout, a company designed to help nonprofits engage with supports on social media, teamed up with Facebook to offer free Facebook ad credits to nonprofits around the country. The application process was simple — enter your basic info and Facebook page and click “submit.” I was pretty sure it was a long shot, but what nonprofit communicator turns down a deal like that?


A few weeks later, I was notified that Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation had received $1,200 in free ad credits. No joke. Enter champagne emoji. These ad credits were to come in three chunks — $400/month for Dec., Jan. and Feb. Beyond that, there were very few restrictions — ActionSprout simply wanted to let us leverage the dollars to make the most impact.

Anybody working in nonprofit communications (and specifically with digital) will understand my glee. For comparison, as an organization, INHF had spent maybe $500 on Facebook promotions over the last three YEARS. I quickly set about planning, and here are some things I learned so far:

A little goes a long way

Compared to more traditional forms of advertising, Facebook ads are a steal, cost-wise. If your nonprofit engages in traditional promotion, I would strongly suggest working digital advertising into your communications budget. Not only do you get quantifiable reach and engagement numbers, even small campaign budgets can make a huge splash with the right targeting. $20 could do wonders for your digital presence.

Reaching new audiences

Almost every nonprofit struggles to reach specific audiences, whether it’s millennials, major donors or the communities they’re trying to help. The ad credits INHF received have let us target groups of people we don’t often reach. We’ve run a specific month-long campaign to garner page likes and engagement from 25-40 year olds. We’re bringing new people in — people we want to hear our message — and can now tailor content to engage them with our organization without it falling on nonexistent ears.

Involving other departments

Sometimes, when you come into a little bit of money, coworkers come out of the woodwork with their own digital desires — ideas for campaigns or content that they want to experiment with. Our development team tried formal year-end fundraising on Facebook for the first time. Our land projects department saw an opportunity to share the stories of some properties we’ve protected recently. We were able to boost policy initiatives to targeted audiences, encouraging them to contact legislators. Our whole team has gotten involved, and it’s been an amazing way to engage non-communicators in my job and passion.

How have you used Facebook ads to boost your communication? Leave your tips, stories or questions in the comment section.

Discussion Group Recap: Partnering to Leverage Funding Opportunities

By Sarah Welch, Communications Director, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa

Suzanne Mineck, president of Mid-Iowa Health Foundation (MIHF), joined our YNPN morning discussion on October 15 to share a few insights into how collaborative partnerships can leverage greater funding opportunities. Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

According to Suzanne, the problems communities are dealing with today are complex and the response system is siloed, making it impossible for one individual or organization to fully address an issue. Partnerships bring together knowledge and perspective to address an issue from all angles.

For example, in addressing youth development, a group needs to look at aspects such as safety, family dynamics, early childhood development, available community supports, and other areas to achieve greater results.

It is important for funders, like MIHF, to be at the table, but one foundation or organization should not be the only funder of a collaborative effort. Partnerships can help all organizations working on the issue to pool their limited resources to have greater impact as well.

The downside to collaboration, noted Suzanne, is that you can lose some control, since you are one voice of many at the table. Many voices can also make an initiative more complicated to move forward.

All of these aspects were part of the Connections Matter project I shared as an example at the October 15 discussion. The Connections Matter initiative brought together Central Iowa partners who were all interested in addressing the same question: How do we make the public more aware of trauma research and engage people in responding?

Through this partnership, we developed a shared message and tools to help this message spread throughout communities. Mid-Iowa Health Foundation got us started with an initial grant, but the collaborative nature of the effort helped us secure other grants, and we have been able to leverage each organization’s resources, such as a registration system or coordination time.

The reasons why this collaborative effort worked for us is that it brought diverse partners to the table to address a specific problem we all noticed. The broad and unifying focus of the effort inspired new partnerships and funding opportunities as well. Except for the website, we have not tied any of our names to the project so that it is seen as a true community effort.

Along the way, I’ve learned that coordinating a project like this requires significant planning. It is important for each person to feel like they have a voice and can own part of the work. Each member must also be generous with resources, sharing what funding they secure for the greater good of the effort.

The result has been a community initiative that has had greater impact than my organization of six staff members could have achieved alone. Learn more about the project and the partners involved at

Please share: What has been a successful collaborative effort you’ve been a part of and what made it successful?

Being Innovative


I recently attended “Igniting Innovation: Creating a Culture of Opportunity,” a workshop hosted by The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. This session was facilitated by the co-owner of the meyvn group, Tammy Rogers.

The session began by working in a group to define what creativity means and what innovation means. It took me a while to actually formalize my thoughts, but what we determined is that creativity leads tothe development of ideas. Innovation is the process of implementing the ideas. Do you agree?

I tend to have ideas float in and out of my mind almost daily. Some are huge, while others are simplethings that could make work a little more efficient. Sometimes I propose ideas immediately and other times I keep quiet until I’m able to articulate what I’m thinking. I remember as an AmeriCorps Member fresh out of college the ideas and visions I had for my position. After going to Washington DC for a training, I was motivated to change the world and nothing was going to stop me! And then I proposed a
few ideas to my director and got firehosed.

When you firehose someone, things like this are said: “We’ve already tried that. Where do you think we’ll get the money? We don’t have the staff for that. I don’t have time for that. Umm, let me think about it.” Firehosing is toxic and such a creativity crusher. More than any aspect of this session, putting
language around that word made the deepest impact for me personally. To put it simply, it’s how you respond to someone’s idea that can make or break a culture of innovation. Words can kill ideas. Period.

Say for example you have an idea and the backing of your friends, coworkers or whatever people needed to move forward. The process looks something like this:

1. Clarify the situation: put some parameters around an issue you see. What do you know about it? What is happening currently?

2. Generate ideas: be open to any idea, look for what’s right

3. Develop solutions: find ways to make it work, build something cheap and fast, find the most promising ideas

4. Implementation: move forward with the idea

There are a lot of different “innovation processes” online if you want to dig a little deeper, but those are the general steps given by Tammy. Another helpful part of the work session was grouping individuals into the different categories associated with the numbers. Some people tend to be more of the idea generators, while others are all about the process of developing solutions to ideas. Since I identify more with number three on the list, I find that number twos can drive me insane. I think to myself, “Why would you think of a million ideas and not act on any of them?” Then again, where would organizations and businesses be without the number twos? It’s important to learn to appreciate the differences every person or colleague brings to the table.

Sometimes I think we need to make more space for innovation, whether it’s in our own personal lives or at the workplace. Not everything is going to work in reality, but as Tammy stated, “fail well and recover quickly.” Do you need more innovation in your environment? I find that these sort of conversations shake up my daily routines and make me a little more curious. Where can innovation exist in your world? And when it does exist, how can you support those around you during the process?

Interested in reading more on innovation? Check out this post on INC. or this post on Fast Company.


 Emily Boyd is a Co-Founder of POP UP YOGA DSM

NLC Fellowship Application and Nomination Period is in full swing!

On behalf of New Leaders Council Des Moines, we were thrilled to join YNPN members and other local leadership programs for networking on Sept. 10. It was a great opportunity to meet potential candidates for the NLC fellowship as our application and nomination period is in full swing.

New Leaders Council is a national nonprofit dedicated to preparing the next generation of progressive leaders. The Des Moines chapter is now recruiting for our sixth year of the NLC Institute, a leadership and professional development program for young progressives. NLC fellows receive training in leadership, entrepreneurship, nonprofit and political management, fundraising, communications, and more. There are fantastic opportunities to network with other young progressives and with leaders in politics, nonprofits, and business. The Institute runs January through May, one weekend per month. The only cost is a $30 application fee; there is no cost for the Institute itself.

If that sounds interesting, come to our Happy Hour at Royal Mile on Oct. 7. You can also contact me at

Applications and nominations are open now at

(Anyone can nominate a potential fellow – all you need is their name and email address. If you know someone who would be a good candidate, nominate them!) You don’t need to be nominated to apply. Applications are due November 1, 2015.

We hope to chat with more YNPN members at our upcoming events! Thanks for having us at yours.

Stacie Bendixen, Recruitment Chair

New Leaders Council Des Moines

Let’s Get Ready for the YNPN Leadership Development Series presented by Alan Feirer

Check out the blog below from Alan. For this and more great blogs from Alan, go to his blog home page here!

You can also register for the 2 part Leadership Development Series here!

Group Dynamic Primer Chapter Four: Communication


If there’s one skill that leaders must master and habitually improve, it’s communication.

If you read this blog, you’ll see that it’s a pretty popular area of concern.

So many dysfunctions, productivity concerns, drama, misunderstandings, and performance failures can be traced directly to communication mis-steps.

It’s tough to summarize this, but here’s an attempt:

Communication goes out, and it comes in.

To keep both channels flowing freely:

Communicate “out” with practiced skill — write well, speak clearly and specifically [and with solid presentation skills], and ensure that your body language is consistent with your message.

Communicate “in” with conscious deliberation — read carefully,listen actively [with verbal, physical, and visual affirmation], and be mindful of the tone, body language, and personality style of the speaker.

Great reads that can help your communication skills includeInfluencerCrucial Conversations, and Secrets of Successful Speakers.

“The only way to lead when you don’t have control is to lead through the power of your relationships.” – Margaret Wheatley

Rate yourself – and/or ask others to rate you – on these:

  • I listen well, with total focus on the speaker.
  • I speak well, clearly, specifically, in a way that leaves no question what I meant and that shows total respect to the person listening.
  • When helping or correcting someone, I address a person’s specific actions, not their attitude.

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